Aug 10, 2017
Ways of Wood: Expressing Material Flows is one of the four installations of the Boston Design Biennial 2017 exhibited now at the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Rose Greenway in downtown Boston. This design installation has been designed and fabricated by a team lead by UTL researcher Daniel Ibañez of Margen-Lab.
Resembling images of logs floated from forests to sawmills, Ways of Wood aims to create a link with North American landscapes of industrial extraction. The nine logs gradually transform across their length into contemporary interpretations of these raw natural materials, here shaped via computer numerical control (CNC) milling. Inspired by the social sculpture of Joseph Beuys and the site-specific land art pieces of Andy Goldsworthy, Ways of Wood explicitly visualizes the connection between contemporary design concerns and the processes of material sourcing through its formal and material configuration. Avoiding the association that wood is a generic and uniform material the installation also brings together diverse regional wood species, supporting the specificities and ecological diversity each and one of them entail.
Wood is one of many material flows necessary to sustain urban life. Typically black-boxed and commodified, the material is often detached from any connection to the landscapes, processes, and people fundamental to its genesis. While the project creates a public space for sitting or socializing, it also attempts to create a territorial re-connection between the sites of material circulation and extraction and the experience of the city, and between vernacular material sources and advanced digital design.
Oct 05, 2016
A belated but very enthusiastic welcome to our friend and colleague, Dr. Martín Arboleda, who joined the Urban Theory Lab in early 2016 as Urban Studies Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow on a 3-year appointment. Martín obtained his Ph.D. in Politics from the University of Manchester, UK, in 2015. His research engages with critical political economy, urban political ecology and science and technology studies, and has focused on the interplay between the geographies of resource extraction and processes of planetary urbanization, especially in the Latin American context. Martín has recently published several pioneering articles on these topics (in Antipode, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research and Geoforum) and is now hard at work in a closely related book project, Planetary Mine and New Spaces of Empire. Martín is also contributing to current debates on Marxism and science and technology studies—a new article is forthcoming next year in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space (an early view version is available at the journal's website). Alongside his dialogues with the UTL, Martín is also teaching a course on global capitalism in Harvard’s Department of Sociology. We are truly delighted to have Martín working with us here in the UTL—his critical insights, scholarly energies, intellectual generosity and passion for dialogue have already added so much to our research community. We are deeply grateful to the Urban Studies Foundation for its generous support of Martín’s work.
May 16, 2016
The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts has awarded a grant to Neil Brenner and Nikos Katsikis for their book project "Is the world urban? Towards a critique of geospatial ideology." This book builds upon theories of planetary urbanization to evaluate the limits and potentials of remotely sensed data and other forms of geospatial information as a basis for mapping urbanization processes. Against the prevalent trend towards cartographic positivism, in which such data are presented as neutral, photographic "captures" of ground conditions, our analysis reveals the hidden, pre-empirical interpretive assumptions that mediate the construction of geospatial maps. The book offers, first, an accessible overview of the main sources of geospatial data on urbanization, the technical procedures through which they are constructed, and the underlying metageographical assumptions upon which they are based. Second, on this basis, a theory-driven approach is proposed to interpret the effects of geospatial data on urbanization. Building upon this ongoing work on planetary urbanization, the project presents new metageographical frameworks for visualizing the worldwide urban fabric, including through the theoretically reflexive application of geospatial data.
Nikos Katsikis defends doctoral thesis "From hinterland to Hinterglobe: Urbanization as Geographical Organization"
Feb 01, 2016
On Monday February 1st 2016, UTL researcher Nikos Katsikis successfully defended his dissertation ‘From Hinterland to Hinterglobe’. The project critically revisited the concept of the hinterland aiming to transcend its associated dichotomies and limitations. It introduced the meta-categories of agglomeration landscapes and operational landscapes as landscapes of possible externalities associated with particular operations. The project investigated how these externalities emerge out of, or are prohibited by, particular compositions of asymmetrically distributed, but largely continuous, elements of geographical organization (elements of the natural environment, elements of infrastructural equipment, demographic factors, institutional and regulatory frameworks). In addition to introducing these novel categories, the project also explored how they could be cartographically defined through the combinatory charting of the various geographical elements that constitute them, blending a theoretical apparatus, building upon theories of the social and ecological production of space under capitalism; with a cartographic and geostatistical apparatus, building upon a critical engagement with selected global geospatial datasets. Finally, as a means of exploring the capacities of these novel concepts, the project attempted a historical overview of the development of urbanization as geographical organization over the past two centuries. The presentation concluded with a lively discussion with committee members Neil Brenner, Hashim Sarkis, Pierre Bélanger as well as several UTL researchers.
Jan 11, 2016
In collaboration with Christian Schmid and Milica Topalovic of the ETH Zurich and the Future Cities Lab (FCL) Singapore, the UTL contributed to an exhibition on "Cartographies of Planetary Urbanization" at the Shenzhen Biennale. The agenda is summarized below:
Today, urbanization has become planetary. The boundaries of the urban have been exploded to encompass vast territories far beyond the limits of even the largest mega-city regions. Meanwhile, novel patterns of urbanization are crystallising that challenge inherited conceptions of the urban as a bounded, universal settlement type. This exhibit proposes a radical rethinking of inherited cartographies of the urban. The popular claim that we now live in an 'urban age' because the world's majority population lives in ‘cities’ is a deeply misleading basis for understanding the contemporary “urban revolution” theorised by Henri Lefebvre. Cities are not isolated manifestations or universally replicated expressions of the urban condition, but are embedded within wider, territorially uneven and restlessly evolving processes of urbanization at all spatial scales, encompassing both built and unbuilt spaces, across earth, water, sea and atmosphere. In this exhibit, interdisciplinary research teams from the ETH Zürich, ETH Future Cities Laboratory Singapore and the Urban Theory Lab at the Harvard Graduate School of Design present new frameworks for understanding and representing contemporary forms of urbanization.
The exhibition highlights the interplay between (a) the search for new theoretical concepts, (b) territorially grounded studies of specific patterns and pathways of urbanization and (c) the use of cartography to decipher new geographies of urbanization for which we currently lack an adequate analytical or representational vocabulary.
'EXIT', BY UTL RESEARCHER / ASSISTANT PROFESSOR ROBERT G. PIETRUSKO, AT PALAIS DE TOKYO MUSEUM, PARIS.
Dec 03, 2015
The piece, “Exit” is a 45-minute piece composed of data-generated animated maps that investigate human migrations today and their leading causes, including the impacts of climate change. Its complete 2015 update has been planned to coincide with the pivotal Paris-based United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21). A crucial opportunity to limit global warming, the COP21 provides a powerful context in which to consider the issues at the heart of Exit: "It’s almost as though the sky, and the clouds in it and the pollution of it, were making their entry into history. Not the history of the seasons, summer, autumn, winter, but of population flows, of zones now uninhabitable for reasons that aren’t just to do with desertification, but with disappearance, with submersion of land. This is the future." (Paul Virilio, 2009)
Based on a prompt and on-going dialog with French philosopher and urbanist Paul Virilio, this experimental work was created in collaboration with architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Columbia University associate professor Laura Kurgan, and a core team of scientists and geographers.
“EXIT” was originally commissioned in 2008 by the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain for the exhibition “Native Land/Stop Eject,” and is now part of their permanent collection.
Nov 29, 2015
The editors of New Geographies are delighted to announce that the journal will now be hosted in the Urban Theory Lab-GSD. The Lab's director, Professor Neil Brenner, will now serve as faculty advisor to the project. New Geographies was launched in 2008 by Doctor of Design (DDes) candidates at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design working with Professor Hashim Sarkis in the New Geographies Lab. With the support of the GSD Dean's Office, the Aga Khan Program at the Harvard GSD and the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, eight issues have been published to date, which explore the agency of diverse design disciplines in relation to emergent geographical conditions and transformations. The journal's editors look forward to continuing their explorations of such issues in collaboration with the Urban Theory Lab's closely allied efforts to reconceptualize urbanization and territory at all spatial scales.
Nov 02, 2015
UTL research manager Daniel Ibañez has recently joined the editorial board of urbanNext, a new online platform produced by Actar Publishers. UrbanNext is designed to establish a multidisciplinary site for discussion, debate and collaboration regarding questions related to contemporary design practices. More generally, UrbanNext aspires to host contributions and exchanges that promote a rethinking of architecture through the lens of contemporary urbanization. Through his contributions, Daniel aims to develop an understanding of design that includes and explores the variegated processes, networks and geographies which support urban life. In this context, he will be reporting on a range of issues in the design disciplines connected to his own research practice and that of the Urban Theory Lab. In this first contribution to the platform, Daniel has co-curated (together with former UTL researcher Roi Salgueiro) a forum for debate around some of the major metageographical visions of the city and the urban that have animated contemporary discussions of world urbanization.
Oct 29, 2015
In collaboration with Elisa Cattaneo (Milano Politecnico), UTL researcher Nikos Katsikis recently organized a one-day symposium on ‘Geo-graphical Urbanism’ within the context of the Milan Expo Belle Arti, in the Perelli Tower, Milan. Playing upon the literal meaning of the word ‘geo-graphy’—the writing on the earth—the symposium aimed to unpack the relationship between urbanization and geography, both as a discipline and as an understanding of context. The symposium built upon ongoing work in the UTL on planetary urbanization, as well as the continuing elaboration of a geographic paradigm for design within the GSD’s New Geographies journal. It brought together an interdisciplinary selection of seminal scholars and practitioners in order to examine and discuss both the agency of geographical factors in shaping patterns of human occupation of the earth, as well as the role of design decisions and projects as geo-structures inscribed on the earth’s surface. In this way, the symposium aspired to explore the potentials of a geo-graphic paradigm to design research and practices. It also addressed the rich and long, but rather under-examined, intellectual exchange between geography and various design disciplines. Partipants included Franco Farinelli (Bologna), Milica Topalovic (ETH), Paola Viganò (EPFL/IUAV), Alex Wall (Virginia) Adrian Lahoud (Royal College of Arts, London)
Oct 27, 2015
UTL researcher Nikos Katsikis recently presented our ongoing research on visualizing planetary urbanization to a workshop of Italian researchers with similar interests in the Milano Politecnico Department of Architecture and Urban Studies. The session was organized by our colleagues, Professor Paolo Perulli and Professor Valeria Fedeli, and was meant to facilitate an exchange of ideas between the UTL and varous researchers engaged in a project on ‘Postmetropolitan Territories and emergent urban forms’, a collaboration between eight Italian universities (Politecnico di Milano, IUAV di Venezia, Politecnico di Torino, Università di Firenze, Università di Roma La Sapienza, Università di Palermo, Università di Napoli Federico II, Università del Piemonte Orientale). Nikos’ presentation addressed the metageographical frameworks behind the construction of geospatial data, their limitations and their potentials. The Italian team presented their ongoing research for an online ‘Postmetropolitan Atlas’ of Italy that compiles and maps numerous indicators of urbanization.
Oct 12, 2015
UTL researcher Nikos Katsikis recently presented some of the core arguments of his doctoral research at a conference on “The Horizontal Metropolis: A Radical Project,” organized by our colleague Paola Vigano at the EPFL, Lausanne, Switzerland. His paper developed his key distinction between “agglomeration landscapes” and “operational landscapes” with reference to a variety of spatial data visualizations of historical and contemporary land uses. His core thesis was that global system of agglomerations, although occupying no more than 5% of the planetary terrain, is actually responsible for the (re)organization of most of the 70% of the earth’s surface currently used. The conference agenda follows:
“Horizontal Metropolis is both an image and a concept, it is a lens through which to view the form of the contemporary city, conceptualizing it and constructing it as a project. It refers to a specific spatial condition characterized by a horizontality of infrastructure, urbanity, relationships, and by closely interlinked, co-penetrating rural/urban realms, communication, transport and economic systems. Contemporary urban figures such as città diffusa in Northern Italy, desakota in Asia or ville horizontale in Africa, fine-grained settlement dispersion in Flanders, or Zwischenstadt in Germany are just some of the examples able to effectively describe this emergent urban condition, increasingly related to the dispersion of the urban fabric within the agricultural landscape.”
Jun 15, 2015
Congratulations to our good friend and colleague, GSD graduate Nikola Bojic, who recently guest-edited the 96th issue of Zivot Umjetnosti, a magazine for contemporary visual arts published in Zagreb, Croatia. Several Urban Theory Lab projects were presented in the issue--including a series of visualizations reporting on our ongoing work on "extreme territories" (curated by Daniel Ibanez); as well as a Croatian translation of Neil Brenner's essay, "Age of urbanization," connected to his work as editor of the volume Implosions/Explosions (Berlin: Jovis, 2014). We are hugely grateful to Nikola Bojic and our colleagues at Zivot Umjetnosti for their interest in and support of our projects. We wish them every success as they further develop their explorations of the issue's theme, "From territory to specific site," in various exhibitions and future publications. The journal's press release follows:
The latest issue of Zivot Umjetnosti magazine explores the interspace between territorial and site-specific. Moving through the territories of migration, technology, law, poetry, infrastructure and public space, this issue draws attention to liminal cultural phenomena that can operate across multiple scales. The magazine brings together research papers and map-pamphlets intertwined into 10 thematic layers. Spatial logic embedded in the magazine’s structure tends to transform the traditional printed mediainto a device for generating new territorial realms.
“…If a map reflects an ideological organization of space, then the operation of re-mapping stimulates the continuous clash between various ideological positions. The magazine thus refuses to serve the exclusive interests of a particular subject (a place, a person, or a structure), that is characteristic for the most of the established historical narratives and projections of the future. Instead, it shifts to the links and exchanges between the subjects connected through the ten thematic layers. The perpetual movement within this space blurs the geographical and the epistemological boundaries, merging both mapping and reading into a single process.” --Nikola Bojic, issue editor.
Sep 30, 2015
UTL researcher Ali Fard, in collaboration with our colleague, GSD DDes candidate Taraneh Meshkani, recently launched their new co-edited volume, New Geographies 07: Geographies of Information, in a lively gathering at the Loeb Library, Harvard GSD. Continuing the long tradition of cutting-edge research at the intersection between geography and design in the ongoing New Geographies project, this volume aims to explore and elaborate the spatial grounding of contemporary information and communication networks. It argues, in particular, that new information and communications technologies (ICTs) exert a critical influence on the ongoing process of urbanization, in a wide range of settings and across multiple spatial scales. The contributors to the volume examine the forms, imprints, places, and territories of ICTs through spatially grounded and nuanced investigations of diverse conditions in both advanced and emerging economies. The volume is now available for purchase through Harvard University Press and popular vendors
‘AND THE URBAN EXPLODED’: LOUISE DORIGNON REVIEWS UTL EXHIBITION FOR ‘SOCIETY AND SPACE’ + ‘URBANITÉS’
Sep 27, 2015
Urban geographer Louise Dorignon of the Université Lumière Lyon II has published a detailed review of the Urban Theory Lab's exhibition on Operational Landscapes at the Melbourne School of Design from Spring 2015. The review appeared in English on the website of Society & Space, and in French in an issue of the journal Urbanités. It offers a very thoughtful, systematic discussion of our recent exhibition in Melbourne, at once in relation to the UTL's ongoing research program, and in relation to the framework presented in our book, Implosions/Explosions (Berlin: Jovis, 2014). Many thanks to Louise Dorignon for such a precise, detailed and thoughtful engagement with our work. We also thank our colleagues at Urbanités for kindly permitting the essay’s translation into English.
May 27, 2015
The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts has awarded a grant to Daniel Ibañez, UTL Research Manager, together with his co-editors, Claire Lyster (UIC), Charles Waldheim (Harvard University) and Mason White (University of Toronto) for their book project "Third Coast Atlas: Prelude to a Plan of The Great Lakes Region." Through this collaborative investigation of the Great Lakes as an large-scale, globally networked zone of urban transformation, Daniel Ibañez is developing his ongoing work on urbanization as a socio-metabolic process that transcends the boundaries of any individual city.
Envisaged as a comprehensive "atlas," this publication comprises in-depth analysis of the landscapes, hydrology, infrastructure, urban form, and ecologies of the Great Lakes (mega)region. Delivered through a series of analytical cartographies supported by scholarly and design research from internationally renowned scholars, photographers, and practitioners from the disciplines of architecture, landscape, geography, planning, and ecology. The publication captures the unique identity of the area and serves as a reference for design and planning in this distinct mega-region.
Measuring over 10,000 miles, the Great Lakes coastline is longer than the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines of the United States combined. The Great Lakes Basin holds over 20 percent of the world's total surface fresh water, and is home to twenty-six million people in the United States and nine million in Canada. It is difficult to overstate the history and future of the region as both a contested and opportunistic site for urbanism.
May 20, 2015
An earlier volume co-edited by Neil Brenner, Margit Mayer and Peter Marcuse, Cities for People, not for Profit (Routledge 2011) has been newly published in a Turkish edition by Sel Publishing in Istanbul. We are grateful to the publisher, Bilge Sanci, for supporting this project.
Apr 18, 2015
UTL researchers Daniel Ibanez and Grga Basic recently contributed to a symposium on "Arctic States" which was hosted by the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia (UVA). The event was organized by UVA professors, Matthew Jull and Leena Cho, directors of the Arctic Design Group and recent graduates of the Harvard GSD. The symposium included contributions by a wide range of scholars, architects and designers who are concerned to understand and shape extreme, remote and contested territories such as the Arctic. The symposium provided a forum for generating and discussing ideas, conceptualizations and projects in and around the Arctic region.
In his lecture to the opening panel of the symposium, Daniel Ibañez reported on the work that the Urban Theory Lab has been developing on the Operational Landscapes of Urbanization, with particular reference to UTL studies of the Arctic region by Grga Basic, Ali Fard and Ghazal Jafari. In his contribution to the event, Grga Basic presented two posters derived from that collaborative research which synthesized our work in progress on the Arctic's thickening urban fabric.
Apr 11, 2015
Daniel Ibañez and Nikos Katsikis, UTL Doctoral Researchers, presented their book, New Geographies 6: Grounding Metabolism, at the SPUR Urban Center in San Francisco. During their visit to the West Coast, they also contributed to a “flash symposium” on urban metabolism which was co-organized by the Urban Works Agency and the California College of the Arts (CCA) as part of the San Francisco Market Street Prototyping Festival. This event took place on San Francisco’s Market Street and included short talks by Christopher Roach and Neeraj Bathia (Urban Works Agency/CCA), Irene Cheng (CCA) and David Fletcher (CCA).
Mar 17, 2015
The Urban Theory Lab recently opened their exhibition "Operational Landscapes" at the Melbourne School of Design (MSD). The exhibition asks: In what sense do we today live in an "urban age"? Frequently invoked by scholars, policy-makers, planners, designers, and architects, usually with reference to the proposition that more than 50 percent of the world's population now lives within cities, such a question provokes further questioning: Can the nature of our urban world be understood and mapped exclusively with reference to the growth of cities and their populations?
The exhibition turns this proposition upside-down and inside-out by speculating on a radically alternative mapping of contemporary planetary urbanization. What happens to our cognitive map of the global urban condition if we focus not on the global cities or megacities of the world, but on the wide-ranging sociospatial and environmental transformations that are currently unfolding in supposedly "remote" or "wilderness" regions such as the Amazon, the Arctic, the Gobi desert steppe, the Himalayas, the Pacific Ocean, the Sahara desert, and Siberia, and even the earth's atmosphere? To what degree are such zones now being integrated within a worldwide fabric of urbanization? How are they being restructured and enclosed to support the energy, water, material, food and logistics needs of major cities?
Through speculative cartographies of these emergent "operational landscapes," the exhibition aims to illuminate the radical transformations of land-use, infrastructure, and ecology far beyond the city limits that have made the contemporary formation of planetary urbanization possible.
With support from: Office of the Dean, Melbourne School of Design; Office of the Dean, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University; Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University; Milton Fund, Harvard University Medical School
Mar 17, 2015
Before a full auditorium of over 400 attendees, Neil Brenner gave one of the Spring 2015 Dean's Lectures at the Melbourne School of Design on the topic "Towards a new epistemology of the urban." Kindly invited by Dean Tom Kvan of the Melbourne School of Design and graciously hosted by Professor Brendan Gleeson, Director of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, Brenner discussed his ongoing work on planetary urbanization and its implications for contemporary urban theory, research, planning and design. The lecture accompanied the launch of the Urban Theory Lab's exhibition on "Operational Landscapes", which was on display at the Melbourne School of Design in March/April of 2015.
Sep 26, 2014
During a very busy two weeks of teaching and lecturing at MIT-DUSP, our friend and colleague Professor Ananya Roy (UC Berkeley) very generously agreed to spend some time in dialogue with us at the Urban Theory Lab. Along with her podcast interview, Professor Roy led a wide-ranging discussion of her work with Urban Theory Lab researchers and other close associates during a lunchtime seminar. Key topics of discussion included her approach to postcolonial urban theory and “Southern” theory, the question of worlding cities, the status of theory in urban research, the nature of critique, the question of reflexivity, and recent debates in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research regarding the status of “the city” as concept and reality. This exchange was an extremely productive opportunity to brainstorm together about some of the many epistemological, substantive and political challenges with which the field of critical urban studies is today confronted. We look forward to continued dialogue with Professor Roy as she develops innovative new approaches to urban theory and research in the years ahead.
Daniel Ibañez co-organizes GSD Conference and Colloquium, “Wood Urbanism: from the Molecular to the Territorial”
Sep 25, 2014
The research agendas and theoretical perspectives of the Urban Theory Lab continue to resonate with and animate many other projects and exchanges at the GSD and beyond. Thus, amidst a busy early semester schedule, UTL Research Manager Daniel Ibañez recently co-organized a conference with our friends and colleagues Kiel Moe (Associate Professor of Architecture and Energy, Harvard GSD) and Jane Hutton (Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture, Harvard GSD) on the topic of Wood Urbanism: from the Molecular to the Territorial. Building in part upon the metabolic perspectives on urbanization being developed by UTL researchers, the conference brought into conversation scholars and practitioners concerned with wood at a range of scales, from that of the molecule and the working forest to that of the mid-rise building, the urban-regional landscape and the forested territory. Specifically, the conference examined the implications and potentials of wood urbanism, understood as a nexus of relationships between land-use, wood production and wood construction. While relying on the inherent intelligence and depth of multiple disciplines, it was argued that a more encompassing socio-metabolic perspective on the role of wood in contemporary buildings, urbanization, and territories is needed. This event marked the initiation of a research collaboration between the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), our friends and colleagues in the Energy, Environments, and Design Lab (EED), and the Centro de Innovación y Desarrollo de la Madera (CIDM), Universidad Católica de Chile.
Architectural Imagination after May ’68 / GSD Talks -- book launch on Henri Lefebvre’s 'Toward An Architecture of Enjoyment,' edited by Lukasz Stanek
Sep 17, 2014
In this lunchtime discussion organized in the GSD Talks series, Professor Lukasz Stanek (Manchester University, UK) presented a newly discovered and translated book by Henri Lefebvre, Toward An Architecture of Enjoyment, which he edited and introduced for the University of Minnesota Press. Professor Stanek’s remarks outlined the connections between Lefebvre’s theory of architecture and his approach to urbanization and the production of space. Additional comments and reflections were offered by Profs. K. Michael Hays (Harvard GSD), Eve Blau (Harvard GSD), Tom Conley (Harvard, Visual and Environmental Studies) and Stuart Elden (Warwick University, UK). Neil Brenner (Harvard GSD) introduced and moderated the discussion, which was attended by many Urban Theory Lab researchers.
Text related to this event: Lukasz Stanek in ARTFORUM
Sep 16, 2014
During a busy week of early semester events at the GSD, two members of our International Advisory Board—Professor Lukasz Stanek (Architecture Research Centre, Manchester University, UK) and Professor Stuart Elden (Politics, Warwick University, UK)—spent some time on campus in conjunction with a major conference on War and Urbanism. In this context, they generously agreed to dialogue with Urban Theory Lab researchers about their various research projects related to questions of urban theory and urbanization. Lukasz Stanek discussed his current work on the export of architectural expertise and design templates from Eastern Europe to the Third World during the Cold War, with particular reference to the case of Accra, Ghana. Stuart Elden discussed his recent thinking about territory in relation to urban questions, and offered a provocative critique of existing approaches to the urban-as-territory within urban studies. The seminar offered us a perfect stimulus to come together as a group early in the semester and to reflect on a number of issues that are of central import to our work in progress. We look forward to continued dialogue with Profs. Stanek and Elden as their respective projects continue to evolve.
Sep 09, 2014
Daniel Ibañez, UTL research manager, recently contributed to a conference on "Nuevo Urbanismo, Nuevas Ciudades" (New Urbanism, New Cities) in Santander, Spain, which was hosted by the Universidad Internacional Menedez Pelayo (UIMP) and directed by the award-winning Spanish urbanist Jose Maria Ezquiaga and the Spanish curator Ariadna Cantis. The seminar program included contributions by young and established urbanists who are concerned to decipher contemporary patterns of urbanization moment in Spain. Equally, the conference aimed to provide a forum for generating and discussing new conceptualizations, ideas, projects and strategies that might inform more nuanced urban interventions in the future. In his lecture, Daniel Ibañez reported on the need to create new conceptualizations of the urban that supersede historically inherited binarisms and reconnect geography and ecology. He proposed that contemporary theories of socio-environmental metabolism could be helpful not only for understanding the interdependencies between agglomerations and broader operational landscapes, but as a basis for repositioning the agency of design in relation to contemporary urbanization patterns.
Sep 04, 2014
UTL researchers Daniel Ibañez and Nikos Katsikis launched their recent volume, New Geographies 06: 'Grounding Metabolism', at the Loeb Library, Harvard GSD. This book aims to trace synthetic routes to design through a more elaborate understanding of the relation between concepts of urban metabolism and the formal, physical, and material engraving of metabolic processes across scales. The book is now available for purchase through Harvard University Press and popular vendors.
Sep 01, 2014
Neil Brenner, director of the Urban Theory Lab, has been named one of Thomson Reuters’ Highly Cited Researchers in 2014. The ranking distinguishes some of world’s leading scientific minds who have produced work of exceptional impact. Brenner’s scholarly publications from 2002 to 2012 are among the top 1% cited globally in the general social sciences.
The Highly Cited Researchers List, first issued in 2001, identified researchers who were the most cited in one or more of 21 broad fields of the sciences and social sciences. The methodology was updated for the current list to focus on more contemporary research achievement and to recognize early and mid-career researchers.
For the full index, visit Highly Cited Researchers.
May 23, 2014
Congratulations to UTL researcher and MDesS '15 candidate Chris Bennett, whose animation on the extended urbanization of the atmosphere was recently featured in a news story by the Atlantic's CITYLAB. This work was produced in the context of the UTL Spring 2014 research seminar on the "extreme territories of urbanization." Consistent with our general concern to analyze the dialectics of concentrated and extended urbanization, Chris' video depicts the ways in which the occupation of the earth's atmosphere has involved the construction of highly elaborate, spatially concentrated terrestrial infrastructures to facilitate satellite launches. With a stunning series of data visualizations, the video reveals the historical geographies of launch site activity during the last four decades in relation to each key orbital zone. Nice work, Chris!
May 12, 2014
This Spring, our work on the urbanization of the world’s most “remote” places continued with a wonderful and dedicated group of student researchers, most of whom are enrolled in the GSD's Master of Design Studies (MDesS) program, Class of 2015. Last year's research laid the intellectual and cartographic groundwork for the study of urbanization processes in the extreme territories--the Arctic, the Amazon, the Gobi desert steppe, the Himalayas, the Sahara, Siberia, the Pacific Ocean and the atmosphere. This year's research team built upon those foundations and focused more systematically on the neoliberalizing regulatory transformations, policy regimes and political strategies that have facilitated these emergent, if deeply uneven, urbanization processes.
As with last year's final presentations, our symposium this year was attended by a large number of students and colleagues from the GSD and beyond, and generated productive and provocative discussions about many of the key methodological, cartographic and political issues we are exploring in the Lab. The symposium concluded with comments and reflections from UTL Advisory Board member and visiting professor Alvaro Sevilla Buitrago (Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Spain). It was followed by our annual "urbanization in Somerville" gathering at Neil Brenner's home. Our work will continue ....
May 08, 2014
The work of the Urban Theory Lab was recently profiled in Epicenter, the web newsletter of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University. Thanks to Joseph Guay for a very thoughtful and well-researched profile of our work, and to the Weatherhead Center for continued support of our research.
May 04, 2014
Congratulations to UTL researcher and MDesS '15 candidate Ana Maria Quirós for receiving GIS Prize for Excellence in Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies, presented by the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Annual Conference of the Center for Geographic Analysis, Harvard University. This work was produced in the context of the UTL Spring 2014 research seminar on the "extreme territories of urbanization." Consistent with our general concern to analyze the dialectics of concentrated and extended urbanization, Ana Maria's maps depict the increasing redirection of Siberian gas pipeline infrastructures towards the East Asian urban system and the Pacific rim. Nice work, Ana Maria!
Apr 26, 2014
In conjunction with his participation in the Liquidation conference in Zagreb earlier this month (see news item below), Neil Brenner was interviewed for the Croatian website Pogledaj which deals with topics related to architecture, design, art, urban planning and spatial justice. The Croatian version of the interview was published here; an English-language version is included below. The interview was conducted by Diana Magdic, an urban journalist and activist based in the city of Split, Croatia who studies the posibilities of participatory planning processes.
Apr 24, 2014
Neil Brenner, director of the Urban Theory Lab, recently contributed to a conference on the privatization of urban space in Zagreb, Croatia. The conference program included contributions by artists, activists and radical scholars concerned to decipher the implications of privatization and neoliberal enclosure for the fabric of contemporary urban life.
The event was connected to a broader interdisciplinary collaboration, conceived by New York-based curator Sarah Lookofsky and produced by Stacion--Center for Contemporary Art Prishtina--along with a team of Zagreb-based curators (Ana Kovacic, Lea Vene, and Sanja Sekelj). An art exhibition, "Liquidation," accompanied the conference at the Galerija Miroslav Kraljevic in Zagreb.
Additionally, the conference featured contributions from several members of the Right to the City movement in Zagreb (Pravo na Grad), who reported on their long history of struggle for more just, democratic and open forms of public space in the post-socialist city (for an informative overview of their work, see this blog post by Subversive Urbanism).
Photo credit: Davor Konjikusic
April 2014 / ongoing: Preparations for MoMa exhibition on "Uneven growth: tactical urbanisms for expanding megacities"
Apr 20, 2014
Under the directorship of curator Pedro Gadanho, the MoMa's Department of Architecture and Design is currently preparing an exhibition on Uneven Growth, dealing with the design and infrastructural challenges faced by mega-cities around the world, to be launched in Fall 2014. The exhibition will feature research and design proposals by six interdisciplinary architectural teams on several major metropolitan regions, including Hong Kong, Istanbul, Lagos, Mumbai, New York and Rio de Janeiro.
A preparatory workshop was held at the MoMa's PS1 this past October, in which the design teams presented their initial ideas for the exhibition. Critical commentaries and reactions were solicited by a panel of interdisciplinary urbanists, architects and designers, including Neil Brenner of the Urban Theory Lab-GSD. A video of the event has just been posted, which contains the team's presentations and the full panel of reactions (Neil Brenner's comments begin at: 2:38:18).
It is extremely exciting to see the MoMa engaging with questions of contemporary urbanism and design from a critical and global perspective. We eagerly look forward to the exhibition this Fall, to the accompanying book publication, and to the many discussions they will provoke about the contemporary urban conditon.
The Arctic and the oceans as zones of urbanization: Prof. Philip Steinberg visits the Urban Theory Lab
Apr 18, 2014
The Urban Theory Lab recently hosted political geographer Phil Steinberg of the University of Durham for a series of lectures at the GSD. Professor Steinberg's visit was organized collaboratively with our friend and colleague Professor Pierre Belanger of the GSD's Department of Landscape Architecture, whose ongoing work on "the oceanic turn" has likewise entailed a close dialogue with Phil Steinberg's thinking about The Social Construction of the Ocean. In a first lecture, connected to our Extreme Territories of Urbanization project seminar, Professor Steinberg discussed his past and present work on the transformation of the Arctic. His new co-authored book on this topic, Contesting the Arctic, is forthcoming this summer with I.B. Tauris. In a second presentation, Professor Steinberg spoke to Pierre Belanger's seminar on the epistemological ramifications of the study of oceanic space for more general questions of political-economic geography. We are hugely grateful to Phil for a fascinating, provocative and extremely high-energy visit to our research groups at the GSD. We look forward to further dialogue about contemporary transformations of these and other "remote" places--and the methodological and cartographic challenges associated with their critical investigation.
Mar 28, 2014
Neil Brenner, director of the Urban Theory Lab, recently reported on our current research agendas to a forum of urban journalists who met for a 2-day symposium at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy just across town from us here in Cambridge. The event, which focused on the question of urban infrastructure, was convened by our colleagues at the Lincoln Institute in collaboration with the Harvard GSD and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. Special thanks go to our friend and colleague, Prof. Jerold Kayden of the Harvard GSD, for coordinating the event and offering the Urban Theory Lab an opportunity to present our work in this forum.
In his lecture, Brenner outlined the critique of city-centric urban theory that is under development within the Urban Theory Lab and its implications for how we might conceptualize the "boundaries" of urban infrastructure under historical and contemporary capitalism. Rather than understanding urban infrastructure exclusively with reference to the socio-technical equipment of cities, Brenner argued for a territorial conceptualization that includes the large-scale operational landscapes of extended urbanization which support city development and inter-urban networks. But such an approach also requires a radical reinvention of inherited notions of the hinterland, which are too often tied to the very city-centric and ahistorical assumptions that currently constrain our understanding of urbanization processes.
A lively discussion ensued in which some of the methodological, cartographic, historical and political implications of these conceptual reorientations were debated. It was wonderful to have this opportunity to dialogue with such an astute and dedicated group of urbanists about our work in progress.
Image from the European Space Agency
Mar 13, 2014
The capitalist form of urbanization involves diverse forms of dispossession to facilitate the accumulation process, whether through gentrification within cities or the enclosure of land within zones of agricultural production or resource extraction. Such issues have long been of central concern to scholars of capitalist development, including historians, urbanists and analysts of agrarian change.
In recent years, sociologist Michael Levien, a recent graduate of UC Berkeley's Ph.D. program and now Assistant Professor of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University, has produced a series of path-breaking articles on the problematique of dispossession. This work, which forms the foundation for a widely anticipated book publication, builds upon his years of research on Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in India and articulates a sophisticated critical engagement with the work of David Harvey and the related literatures on enclosure, land grabbing and neoliberalism. Aside from its insights into historical and contemporary transformations in India, Professor Levien's analysis of the neoliberal "land-broker state" has massive implications for comparative studies of dispossession in other national and local contexts around the world.
Professor Levien recently visited the Urban Theory Lab to discuss his ongoing research and to dialogue with us about some shared methodological and thematic agendas. His visit offered us much food for thought about the wide-ranging set of issues associated with dispossession across places and territories. This work is of central importance as we further develop our analyses of urbanization in the Extreme Territories, where we hope to explore more systematically the connections between sociospatial restructuring and dispossession both in historical and contemporary perspective. Thanks, Mike, for a productive and enjoyable visit; we look forward to future dialogues as we work to supersede the increasingly untenable divide between urban studies and agrarian/peasant studies.
Urban Theory Lab researchers at the MIT conference "Property from Below: Rethinking Property Rights over Land in a Global Context"
Feb 28, 2014
Several Urban Theory Lab researchers recently participated in a conference at MIT on "Property from Below: Rethinking Property Rights over Land in a Global Context." The event was co-organized by Professor Balakrishnan Rajagopol of MIT-DUSP, Professor Olivier DeSchutter of the University of Louvain as well as doctoral candidate Alpen Sheth of MIT-DUSP, who is also a long-standing contributor to the Urban Theory Lab.
The conference explored the philosophical foundations of property rights in legal discourse as well various ways in which inherited formations of land ownership are being extended--and also contested--under contemporary capitalism. Of particular interest to our work in the Urban Theory Lab, the conference problematique productively exploded inherited urban/rural and North/South binarisms to reveal the parallel forms of enclosure--and resistance--that are occurring in property systems around the world, from large city centers to relatively remote agricultural and resource extraction regions.
In his remarks during the closing panel, Neil Brenner of the Urban Theory Lab underscored the need to develop new conceptions of space, territory and land in order to decipher ongoing transformations of property relations in an age of intense land grabbing in strategic zones around the world. Perhaps, he suggested, contemporary land grabs in the global South represent processes analogous to those which radical urban geographer Neil Smith long ago analyzed at the urban scale under the rubric of the "rent gap": speculative attempts by rentiers, aided and abetted by state institutions, to capitalize upon the potential ground rent of zones whose current uses do not attain their supposed "highest and best use" for profit-making activities.
Surely, alternatives to this form of "neo-Haussmannization" (Andy Merrifield) on a world scale are not only possible but necessary. Several contributors to the conference, including Balakrishnan Rajagopol and Alpen Sheth, showed that such alternatives do indeed exist, and that they continue to be forged through the relentless struggles of social movements around the world against the destructive social and environmental impacts of market fundamentalism.
The conference is connected to the ongoing work of the Displacement Research and Action Network.
Map by UTL researcher, Oscar Malaspina.
Feb 27, 2014
Last week, Urban Theory Lab researchers Neil Brenner and Daniel Ibañez contributed to an interdisciplinary conference on visualization, "Thinking with your eyes," held at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The presentation focused on the Lab's use of visualization strategies as a tool of theory building in relation to urban questions, with specific reference to our ongoing project, "Extreme Territories of Urbanization." It was a pleasure to contribute to this event and to dialogue with other scholars in the social sciences, the humanities and the design disciplines about the role of visualization in contemporary research--and practice.
Diagram by Kelvy Bird of Dpict
Feb 19, 2014
Urban Theory Lab researchers were privileged this week to have a lunchtime seminar with one of the great urban theorists of our time, Manuel Castells, the author of many of the most foundational and influential books in our field, including The Urban Question (1972), The City and the Grassroots (1983), The Informational City (1989), The Rise of the Network Society (1996), Communication Power (2009) and Networks of Outrage and Hope (2012). Professor Castells' engagement with the Urban Theory Lab occurred admist a busy 2-day visit to the GSD, in which he also presented public lectures to larger audiences on "The Space of Autonomy: Cyberspace and Urban Space in Networked Social Movements" and "Urbanism in the Information Age: Places, Flows, Networks." Our research group was delighted to have the opportunity to dialogue with Professor Castells about his past and present research agendas, and to receive his feedback on some of our ongoing research projects. Along with the intellectual nourishment we received from his visit, we were all quite charmed by Professor Castell's personal warmth and intellectual generosity, and by his refreshingly joyful approach to scholarship, dialogue and debate. Thank you, Manuel Castells, for a wonderful and inspiring visit to the GSD!
Feb 07, 2014
The Doctor of Design program at the GSD, with the support of the Urban Theory Lab, the Energy and Environment Lab, New Geographies Lab, the Department of Architecture and Landscape Architecture and the Urban Metabolism group at the GSD, are hosting a one-day conference entitled "Projective Views on Urban Metabolism". The concept of urban metabolism, aiming to grasp the continuous processes of energy, material and population exchange within and between cities and their extensive hinterlands, has been the subject of both extensive empirical research and, increasingly, critical discussion within the social and natural sciences. However, these interdisciplinary challenges have not yet been met with a synthetic response from the design disciplines. Through the lens of urban metabolism, the goals of this one-day conference are: to reassess the planetary rescaling of contemporary urbanization processes; to unpack the transformation of spatial forms and structures, and on this basis, to track the emergence of new operative territories for design; and finally, to explore the agency of design in confronting these challenges. This event, has been organized by UTL members Daniel Ibañez and Nikos Katsikis, with the support of UTL member Ali Fard and other doctoral students at the GSD. It will take place in Piper auditorium at the GSD on Friday February 7th from 10am to 6pm.
The conference is also connected to the forthcoming issue of New Geographies, ‘Grounding Metabolism’, edited by Daniel Ibañez and Nikos Katsikis, scheduled for publication in May 2014.
Feb 02, 2014
This semester UTL faculty member, Robert Gerard Pietrusko, will again be offering his course "Mapping: Geographic Representation and Speculation," with the help of UTL doctoral student, Daniel Ibanez. In this lecture, students learn to think criticially about geospatial datasets and unpack the conventions of carographic representation while deploying these techniques within their own work to visual complex spatial processes or speculate on future spatial possibilities.
Jan 30, 2014
The Urban Theory Lab-GSD and the Urbanism Landscape Ecology concentration of the GSD’s MDesS program are hosting a discussion with environmental photojournalist Garth Lenz. Joining this dialogue on aerial photography, landscapes of environmental destruction and early 21st century urbanization will be faculty members Neil Brenner, Sonja Dümplemann and Jeanne Haffner. Exploring the landscapes of ecological destruction that underpin our fossil fuel-based economy, Lenz’ images also offer a unique perspective on contemporary forms of capitalist urbanization and landscape transformation. The Urban Theory Lab’s newly published volume Implosions / Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization (Berlin: Jovis, 2013) prominently features some of Lenz's most striking images from the Canadian Tar Sands in Northern Alberta. This event will be an opportunity to discuss Lenz's images in the context of the GSD's broader engagements with contemporary issues in landscape, urbanism, infrastructural design and environmental politics.
Jan 23, 2014
We are delighted to announce the continuation of our work on the urbanization of the world’s most remote places and regions in the context of a GSD project-based research class for Spring 2014, “Extreme territories of urbanization: regulatory restructuring.” This class will meet every Friday, 8 to 11am during the GSD Spring 2014 semester. Interested students should attend the first session for a detailed explanation of our agenda.
Students interested in learning about our work via the literatures in urban theory should consider enrolling for “Urban theory after 1968,” also taught by Neil Brenner in Spring 2014, Fridays, 2-5pm. This reading- and writing-intensive class will survey some of the major traditions of post-1968 radical urban theory, with specific reference to some of the key issues and debates with which the Urban Theory Lab is most directly concerned. Key texts include classic works by Henri Lefebvre, Manuel Castells, David Harvey and Neil Smith, among other theorists; more recent work on globalized urbanization, worlding cities and postcolonial urbanism; and the UTL’s newly published book, Implosions/Explosions.
Dec 12, 2013
Neil Brenner gave the second Centenary Lecture at the Bartlett School of Planning of University College London (UCL) on the topic, "Urban theory without an outside." The session was moderated by Professor Mike Raco of the Bartlett School of Planning. The session was followed by the launch of Brenner's most recent book Implosions/Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization (Berlin: Jovis, 2013), together with a wine reception for all who attended.
Dec 12, 2013
A new book surveying the theoretical foundations and methodological orientations for our work in the Urban Theory Lab has now been published: Implosions/Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization (Berlin: Jovis, 2013). The book is now available for purchase in the United Kingdom and Europe and will be released in North America in early Spring 2014. A book launch event was held in London in December 2013 following Neil Brenner’s Centenary Lecture at UCL. We are grateful to Jovis Verlag and the Building Centre Bookshop in London for organizing this celebratory event.
Nov 14, 2013
Neil Brenner gave a lecture reporting on his ongoing book project with Christian Schmid in the “On Architecture” series at the ETH-Zurich. After summarizing the agenda of the Urban Theory Lab, Brenner discussed some of the methodological and conceptual foundations of the theory of planetary urbanization that he and Schmid are developing. He concluded by summarizing the current work of the Urban Theory Lab on the urbanization of the world’s most “remote” places. Following the lecture, a wide-ranging discussion with the audience ensued, in which Christian Schmid also offered some comments on work in progress.
Oct 25, 2013
Neil Brenner gave the opening lecture at the Creative Time Summit in New York City on “Art, Place, and Displacement in the 21st century City.” Building upon Henri Lefebvre’s concept of the “right to the city,” Brenner discussed the possibilities and limits of place-making as a means to promote radical sociospatial transformation under conditions of neoliberalizing capitalism. The conference brought together a wide range of artists, designers, writers, film-makers, activists, musicians, curators and thinkers who are engaging in radical new ways with urban questions, conditions and transformations. It was exciting and inspiring to see the worlds of radical art/design and critical urban theory intersect so productively in this remarkable conference.
May 03, 2013
Our first research studio on the urbanization of the world’s most “remote” places concluded with a day-long symposium and workshop in which student researchers reported on and discussed their work from the past semester. The presentations were attended by a large number of students and colleagues from the GSD and beyond, and generated a fascinating series of conversations and debates about urban theory, geopolitical economy, landscape restructuring and socio-environmental transformations around the world. The symposium concluded with a wide-ranging roundtable discussion of our work thus far, with incisive reflections from UTL Advisory Board members Stuart Schrader (American Studies, NYU) and David Wachsmuth (Sociology, NYU). Our work this semester also benefited immensely from the contributions of UTL Advisory Board members, visiting professor Alvaro Sevilla Buitrago (Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Spain) and Ann Yoachim (GSD Loeb Fellow, 2012-13). Our work will continue in future semesters.
Feb 04, 2013
In this brief interview, conducted by Fulcrum editor Jack Self, Neil Brenner discusses contemporary forms of neoliberal urbanism and their implications for the practice of design.